Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Christina Dodd -- Castles In The Air

Christina Dodd -- Castles In The Air

Rated: ♥ ♥ ♥ . ♥   {3.85}
Action: ♠♠♠ / Emotion: ♣♣♣ / Romance: ♥♥♥ / Sensuous: ♦ / Suspense: ♠♠♠
Action: 3.0 / Emotion: 3.0 / Romance: 3.0 / Sensuous: 1.0 / Suspense: 3.0  //  Historical Flavor: 4.0 / Laughter: 1 / Tears: 1

Setting:     Lofts Castle, England
Era:           1166
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Being in the mood for a medieval romance, picked up Christina Dodd's first book in The Medieval Duet (or 'My First Series' Duet), Candle In The Window, and enjoyed an entertaining visit back to medieval England.   Dodd did such a great job of prompting interest in the hero of Castles In The Air, that it was easy to decide to read this book as well.

For some reason writing this review for Castles In The Air is difficult.   Dodd wrote an entertaining and enjoyable story that sweeps the reader back to medieval England.   She failed, however, to inspire that deep sense of connection to the characters that is necessary for an outstanding read.   And even though this book may not find its way onto my "favorites" list, it is still a book worth reading.

Geoffroi Jean Louis Raymond, Count of Avraché has traveled from London across England to Lofts Castle in the dead of winter to seek retribution against Lady Juliana of Lofts for making him a laughingstock at court because she refused to join with him in marriage as decreed by King Henry.   Raymond kidnaps Juliana during a blizzard as she was making her way from the village back to the castle and takes her to a woodcutter's hut to wait out the storm.   As the story continues the reader will realize that the timing for such an event to have happened was incredibly unlikely because Juliana is so concerned about her safety that she hardly ever leaves the walls of Lofts Castle.

Several pertinent details are revealed in the opening chapter as Raymond and Juliana talk.   First it is obvious that Juliana is not only terrified of men, but she believes all of them to be dishonorable and untrustworthy because of some event that happened three years ago.   Second, Raymond has experienced the personality-altering event of being captured by the Saracens, even though he returned home a hero because he not only escaped his captors, but freed others enslaved as well.

Rather than force this woman into marriage, Raymond decided he would utilize his skills of charm and seduction to win Juliana as his wife.   During their conversations about King Henry and Queen Eleanor, Juliana assumes that the handsome man who kidnapped her is the King's master castle-builder sent to construct her curtain wall.   Raymond decided to let Juliana believe so in order to give him time to convince her that he was a man worthy of marriage.

Having read about the horrible parents that used their wealth and status to manipulate and control Raymond, it was no surprise that Raymond was determined to find a way into the inner circle of love that surrounded Juliana and her two daughters, eleven year old Margery and precocious ten year old Ella.   Dodd painted an engaging picture of the closeness between mother and daughters and revealed that Juliana was well-loved by her people -- a picture in which Raymond desperately wanted to be included.

If there was anything disappointing about Raymond's character, it was that he was not portrayed as a sword-wielding knight in an abundance of exciting action-packed warrior-like sequences.   Rather, Raymond was featured as a knight with demons, who was seeking a loving home to fulfill the needs of the neglected boy raised by cold parents.   Rather than displaying his skill with a sword, Raymond revealed his strengths of kindness, leadership, and seduction.

But there is just something about a book that constantly refers to 'the big secret' so often without revealing what that secret is that gets really, really tiresome.   Sure, initially, this gimmick is a good tool to inspire continued interest in the story, but after so many references to the event that changed Juliana's life three years ago, one reaches the point of thinking 'enough already, just tell us what happened.'

Another facet to the story that was off kilter was the contrast in Juliana's personality.   Here is a woman who is so petrified of certain men that she freezes when having to confront them but has such a strong belief in her right to rule her lands and people as she sees fit that she issues orders in pure stubborn determination to rule her domain, including ordering Raymond about.

Just as she did in the first book of the series, Dodd created rich secondary characters that added a great depth to the story.   The obvious villain of the story was Lofts Castle's elderly chief man-at-arms, Sir Joseph.   In fact, Sir Joseph was such a contrary, mean-spirited, trouble-making individual that you couldn't help but wonder why it took so long for Juliana to decide to conquer her fear of him and order Sir Joseph from the castle to live out his life at Bartonhale Castle, her second holding.   But then because Juliana had such a soft heart, she allowed the trouble-maker to remain at Lofts until the Twelfth Night.

Another secondary character that drew great interest was Raymond's friend and confidant, Keir.   Dodd did such a tremendous job of painting an intriguing picture of this wise, down-to-earth Irishman, who also suffered at the hands of the Saracens, that you wanted to know so much more about him.   For instance, the story line implies that Keir was a knight before the Saracens forced him to learn the blacksmithing trade, but she left us wondering about Keir's history.   Why was he such a reserved man?   Did he have any family?   Did he have hopes and dreams for his own happily-ever-after?

Although their personalities were not richly developed, Juliana's two neighbors arrived at Lofts Castle when they heard about the new curtain wall construction going on.   Upon their appearance, it was obvious that these two men were somehow tied to the devastating incident that happened to Juliana three years ago.   Hugh, baron of Holley, was a tall well-formed knight that didn't mind sharing his thoughts about how Juliana should be running Lofts.   It was also obvious that Hugh was in love with Juliana and was hoping to marry her.   (In fact, as the story progressed, the question that came to mind was: why didn't Hugh offer for Juliana's hand some time during the seven years between the time her husband, Millard, died and the incident that happened three years ago.)

The second neighbor, Felix, earl of Moncestus, was such a toadying buffoon, that it was difficult to imagine that he played any part in the incident that caused Juliana to be so afraid of men, particularly those who were supposed to be her friends.   But, apparently, this short, vain, obtuse man was responsible for the round scar on Juliana's check.   So, again, Dodd has readers wondering what happened that had Juliana constantly on high alert for danger.

Two other interesting secondary characters joined the cast.   Apparently Raymond freed these two women from the Saracens during his escape and they had become part of his retinue.   It was interesting to see the loyalty that these two women showed Raymond as they joined him in his efforts to persuade Juliana of his worth as a husband.   And even through Valeska and Dagna were described as old crones, their acrobatic and juggling skills indicated otherwise.   Dodd exhibited her creative skills when she added these two quite unique characters to the story and utilized their skills to help save the day in the exciting finale.   Also, loved the scene in the kitchen when Valeska and Dagna instructed Juliana on better terms to use when cursing.

It was quite surprising to find that Dodd decided to introduce readers to Raymond's parents.   The only reason Geoffroi, Count of Locheais and Isabel, Countess of Locheais, showed up at Lofts Castle was to stop their only son from marrying a nobody who resided too far away from the important aristocrats of England.   Not because they loved their son, but because they were determined that their son should make a match that would increase their political stature.   The appearance of these two cold, manipulative people revealed why Raymond was so determined to become part of a warm, caring family.   Dodd did an incredible job of portraying the vile personalities of Geoffroi and Isabel as they interacted with Raymond and Juliana -- none of which failed to express their disdain for the other.   Dodd revealed the arrogance and self-importance to which the Count and Countess held themselves with something as small as a toothpick.

Geoffroi picked his teeth with the golden toothpick his serving man had presented after the evening meal.   (page 172)
Geoffroi sheathed his toothpick with the flourish most men reserved for a sword.   (page 176)

Raymond's lies were revealed when Papiol, King Henry's master castle-builder actually showed up at Lofts Castle.   Even though Papiol was a minor secondary character, Dodd did an excellent job of weaving him smoothly into the plot of the story by giving him an arrogant manner and using him as a tool for Juliana to show Raymond that she was beginning to trust in his judgment to build her curtain wall in spite of all Papiol's protestations.   Dodd does a fantastic job of revealing the personalities of her characters as they display their idiosyncrasies while they interact with other members of the cast.

Another minor, but interesting secondary character that added to the story was a villager who was helping to dig the trench that was going to support the curtain wall that Raymond was building.   One of Juliana's best trackers, Tosti was a great addition to the cast, entertaining his fellow workers by calling Raymond, in the role of master castle-builder, m'lord and explaining to Ella and Margery that Raymond carried himself and spoke like a lord, not a craftsman.   He was also instrumental in aggravating Papiol as they argued in alternating French and English.   And when the story line called for it, Tosti's skills as a tracker were called into play.   Even though it may not have seemed like it, the fact that Tosti was able to speak so bluntly to Raymond showed the respect that Raymond's leadership inspired.

"M'lord, I must speak th' truth.   Ye'd be in our way."   Without apparent thought to their different stations, Tosti patted Raymond's shoulder.   "Ye don't do th' trackin', an' we won't do th' fightin'."   (Tosti, page 305)

One other minor character often appeared on the pages of this book.   Juliana appointed Layamon as the new chief man-at-arms to replace Sir Joseph.   Dodd did not bother to describe Layamon's looks nor endow him with a personality.   His youth and inexperience seemed to make him an unwise choice for such an important role.   There was nothing about Layamon that made him memorable or added greatly to the plot of the story.

The final minor secondary character that played an important role in the story line was the squire, Denys, that Raymond's friend, William of Miraval (Candle In The Window), sent to Raymond to foster.   William believed that Raymond could reach through the bitterness consuming Denys because he experienced much the same thing at Denys' age.   Another role Denys played was to point out to Juliana that she could not be harsh to a boy simply because he reminded her of her past husband.   In the end, Juliana revealed her deep compassionate nature to this gangly, lost lad.

The romantic aspect of the story was very subtle.   Instead of wooing his intended bride with flowers and sweet words, Raymond had to find alternate methods to inspire desire and trust in Juliana because of her obvious fear of men.   Raymond won Juliana's heart by developing a relationship with Ella and Margery and by spending night after night in her bed teaching her about kissing and pleasure without once forcing consummation upon her.   By the time their wedding night rolled around, Juliana was ravenous for Raymond.   Because purple prose ruled during the time period in which this book was written (1991), it came as no surprise that the lovemaking scenes did not have the spicy, sizzling quality that today's romance novels contain.   However, Dodd did a great job of revealing the mutual attraction between Raymond and Juliana in a manner that flowed smoothly through the story.

One of the reasons it was difficult to connect on an emotional level with Juliana was because Dodd spent too long focusing on Juliana's fear before revealing the incident that inspired that fear.   It was difficult to reconcile Juliana's strong-willed determination to maintain control of her lands (married or not) with the woman who cowered at the thought of dealing with men like Hugh, Felix and Sir Joseph.   After Dodd finally revealed that Juliana's shame was tied to the actions of her weak-willed father, her behavior made a bit more sense.   But then that contrast in personalities cropped up again.   Since Dodd revealed very few details about Juliana's father, one had to surmise by Juliana's words that he was more concerned about his comforts than his daughter -- and yet, he allowed his daughter to competently wield full power as the castle chatelaine.

Isn't it amazing that the evil-hearted villains in books always know exactly what will reduce the hero to mush.   Even after Juliana revealed her secret shame to Raymond, he was loathe to tell her how the Saracen's broke him when he was a captive.   But in the thrilling action-packed finale, Sir Joseph knew exactly how to torment Raymond so that his shame was revealed to Juliana.   Naturally, since Raymond was a prideful man, that revelation inserted a great wedge between them.   Of course, they resolved those differences, but for some reason the nuances of the bridal gift Raymond presented to Juliana to display his admiration and respect for her simply were beyond my comprehension.

Dodd did an excellent job of giving the story a rich historical flavor.   Since Raymond was related to both King Henry and Queen Eleanor, Dodd was able to weave many historical events that were happening during that time period into the story.   The description of the layout of Lofts Castle and the everyday activities greatly added to the feel of medieval England to the story.

In summary, Castles In The Air, is a worthwhile read featuring: {1} Raymond, a handsome, determined, charming knight who strives to keep the wounded soul inside him hidden while striving to become part of a loving family; {2} Juliana, a strong-willed, self-sufficient, yet fearful, heiress who wants to be left alone to rule her lands as she sees fit; {3} scenes of everyday events that move the story along at a slow, but steady pace; {4} a dim emotional connection to the protagonists; {5} a soft subtle romance based on the trust building between Raymond and Juliana; {6} a lazy aura of suspense about {a} the haunting events that occurred in Raymond and Juliana's past and {b} what was Sir Joseph going to stir up next; {7} an old-fashioned purple-prose kind of sensuality; {8} a variety of interesting secondary characters; and {9} a strong flavor of medieval England.
--Vonda M. Reid (Friday, May 24, 2013 : 2:22 a.m.)     [314]

Books In The Series: "The Medieval Duet" and/or "My First Series Duet"
# Date Title Hero Heroine
01.04-1991Candle In The WindowSir William of Miraval, knightLady Saura of Roget, blind
02.07-1993Castles In The AirGeoffroi Jean Louis Raymond, Count of AvrachéLady Juliana of Lofts, widow
These two books are very much stand alone reads, even though they have some related characters in each book.

Characters Found In "Castles In The Air"
Character Description
Geoffroi Jean Louis Raymond, Count of Avraché[Hero] black hair; bitterness; tall (7) captured by Saracens; escaped; strong hands (9) spoke French as did all nobles; king's cousin; only son of a wealthy family (11) parents less than generous, kept him without funds to keep him on leash; 35-y-o (12) green eyes; absurdly long lashes; handsome; alluring; intriguing; calm, still demeanor that warned of deep waters; ebony hair swept shoulders; clean-shaven; broad, proud cleft chin; unruly curl to raven's wing black hair; gold earring in one ear; sensual mouth; smile added to his beauty; dimples creased his cheeks (13) a natural assurance that withered defiance (16) taut; vigilant (25) stubble grew black and thick on his chin; tanned skin showed signs of the relentless sun; responsibility has marked him with tiny wrinkles around the eyes (29) carried his arrogance easily (31) barbaric earring of hammered gold, so large it expanded the pierced lobe (32) strong, steady, reliable gaze (51) long body; long legs; long thighs (96) deep scars, ridged with white and flecked with red; scar circled his throat; all of him was brown from his southern ancestors; all of him was big, legacy of Viking ancestors; all of him was muscled, a legacy of his knightly training (186) strong; brave; kind; clever (243)
Lady Juliana of Lofts[Heroine] young; healthy; smooth skin; tall; fair; not beautiful; burnished copper hair (4) lips too full for her thin face; high cheekbones; square face; vividly blue eyes slanted up at the corners; found purple scar marred one cheek (5) sole heiress to her father's and her husband's lands (12) hated men (13) hair reached only to her shoulders (14) 28-y-o (16) long, jagged, puckered scar behind her ear (20) fine-boned; delicate (22) slender waist; curves at bust and hips; face lacked the narrow beauty popular at court; sweet mouth; shadowed eyes (25) spoke English (44)
. . . . . .
Anglais[Animal] Lofts destrier (329) white (337)
Anne[No Appearance] Felix's mistress (160)
Cuthbert[One Appearance] Juliana's carpenter (94)
Dagna[Secondary Character] old woman; fair skin; fair hair; would have been tall except for a twisted back; one of women Raymond sent for (60) many brown aging teeth (62) big blue eyes (63)
Denys[Secondary Character] sent by William to be Raymond's new squire; gangly youth; tangled not blond nor brown hair; long thin nose dripped; fine fuzz decorated his chin; watery blue eyes (208) colt of a boy; all arms and legs; too thin; too eager to please; reminded Juliana of Millard; without personality or charm (209) mother died from combination of consumption and starvation; father gambled away his lands and wife's dower, then killed himself; at mother's death swore many foolish things (210)
Queen Eleanor[Actual Historical Character / Brief Appearance] divorced King of France to marry Henry (31) Queen of France, Queen of England, Countess of Poitou and Aquitaine (32) a marvelous woman; no queenly figurehead (32) understand the politics between France and England; understands the politics within France and England; bore Henry 7 children, 3 healthy, living sons (33)
Ella of Lofts[Major Secondary Character] Juliana's 10-y-o daughter (13) watched the world through bright eyes; laughter rang out over all the sounds of the castle; blond hair hung free around her face; asked questions endlessly; fertile mind found endless opportunities for mischief (76)
Fayette[Rare Appearances] Juliana's personal maid (51)
Felix, Earl of Moncestus[Secondary Character] bobbing, florid-faced little man (92) earl of Moncestus; Juliana's neighbor (97) short in stature; swarthy; plump (100) slick black hair (108) a mimicking moron (109) too odorous; too greasy (156) draped himself in the best materials; groomed himself meticulously; checked himself constantly in polished mirror; nothing but a bully rooster (158) obtuse (159)
Geoffroi, Count of Locheais[Secondary Character] Raymond's father (163) cold; manipulative (164) heartless; treacherous; cunning (166) Raymond's face worn by an older man; cold brown eyes (168) heir of one of greatest families in Normandy and Maine (180)
King Henry[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] gave Juliana to Raymond (4) splendid tactician (33)
Hugh, Baron of Holley[Secondary Character] tall, well-formed knight (92) baron of Holley; Juliana's neighbor (97) receding hairline; scars lent a fierce appearance and proof of fighting skills (102) too observant; not stupid (109) a blunt man (197)
Isabel, Countess of Locheais[Secondary Character] Raymond's mother; green eyes; condescending (163) cold; manipulative (164) heartless; treacherous; cunning (166) slight bosom (178) heir to one of greatest families in Angoulême and Poitou (180) thin, aristocratic fingers (241)
Sir Joseph[Major Secondary Character] Juliana's chief man-at-arms; corny of her father (18) can be unpleasant (20) most constant part of Juliana's misery; half-deaf; many cowered beneath his fury; Juliana's father's closest companion, greatest confidant (65) fanatical blue eyes (66) evil glare promised retribution (67) delighted in inflicting pain (92) very intelligent; manipulative (197) bushy white eyebrows; craftiness in bulging blue eyes (263) Juliana's uncle; eldest son of Juliana's grandfather by a serf (283)
Keir[Major Secondary Character] Raymond's chief knight and companion; years of shared hardship; enigmatic (53) learned to be a blacksmith at the hands of Saracen whip; only thumb and forefinger remained on hand (54) droopy gray mustache; dark brown hair; son of Ireland; so unemotional as to be unreadable; rare constraint (55) solid shape; calm radiated from him; invited trust (80) three fingers of right hand cut down to first joint (269) attractive man (271) interesting insights into moral character; believed in setting things to right (277) honest man (278)
Layamon[Secondary Character] young man; chief man-at-arms in Sir Joseph's absence; well-muscled shoulders; variety of scars proclaimed battle hardening (48)
Margery of Lofts[Secondary Character] Juliana's elder daughter; 11-y-o (42) took her responsibilities as heiress seriously; had Juliana's coloring; copied her mother's ways; long thin face resembled none in the castle (76) hip length hair (280)
Millard[No Appearance] Juliana's husband; sickly youth; Juliana's father's ward; died 10-y-a (42) without personality or charm (209)
Papiol[Secondary Character] Henry's master castle-builder (112) heavily accented rapid Poitevin French; jowls; mustache (111) jowled, expressive face (113) greasy brown hair (151) high voice; arrogant manner (285)
Lord Peter of Burke[Brief Appearance] man who fostered Raymond (183) William's father (210) taught Raymond honor, dignity and leadership (210)
Richard[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] Henry and Eleanor's second son; Eleanor's designed heir of Poitou and Aquitaine (33)
Rosamund[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] Henry's mistress; Henry flaunts her; keeps her in the royal residences (32)
Salisbury[Secondary Character] Tosti's father (215) one of Juliana's best trackers (73) toothless (218)
Saura[No Appearance] [Heroine of Book 1] William's wife (209) known for her good works (210)
Tosti[Secondary Character] working on moat; one of Juliana's best trackers (73)
Valeska[Secondary Character] serving woman; thick, guttural accent; hypnotic brown eyes; old crone; one of women Raymond sent for (60) yellowed fingers; three teeth (61) muscular; long claws (6)
William of Miraval[No Appearance] [Hero of Book 1] Raymond's friend (209)

Locations, Organizations Found In "Castles In The Air"
Location / Organization Description
Chapter OneEngland, 1166 (1)
Bartonhaleone of Juliana's holdings (12)
Bartonhale Castlewhere Juliana sending Sir Joseph (70)
Loftsone of Juliana's holdings (12)
Lofts CastleJuliana's home (43)
Poitevinsflighty people; tendency to break into rebellion each time Henry turns his attention elsewhere (33)
Woodstockmost beloved royal residence; Eleanor found Rosamund there (34)

"Castles In The Air" Quotations
31"Love . . . changes.   Grows greater or lesser with time and circumstances."   (Juliana)
82Land represented more than just status, money, position.   It was a place to be from, a place to return to, a home.   (Raymond)
213"Sometimes . . . we make a fuss about trivial things . . . to conceal or reveal our true feelings."   (Valeska and Dagna)
228"A woman's problems tend to be of an emotional nature.   Women wish to be loved by their mates and by their families, to be respected in the community.   When a man has what he considers to be problems, they are usually of a physical nature."   (Keir)
327. . . wept for the lad who had no one else to weep for him.   (Juliana)

"Christina Dodd -- Castles In The Air" Review and Information Links
Rated Posted Site Notes, Comments, Etc.
----Christina Dodd's WebsiteAuthor
----Christina Dodd's FacebookAuthor
----Christina Dodd's TwitterAuthor
----Christina Dodd's WikipediaAuthor
. . . . . . . . .. . .
4.24 average{21 reviews}Amazonas of: June 10, 2013 // {a5} {a7}
Article09-26-2012As You Like Itduplicate of: Kay's Blog
3.50 average{18 ratings}Barnes & Nobleas of: June 10, 2013
----Christina Dodd's WebsiteArticle about The Three-Armed Woman on the Original Cover
----Fantastic FictionList of Christina Dodd's Books
----Fict FactList of Books In The "Medieval" Series
----Fiction DBList of Christina Dodd's Books
3.62 average{569 ratings}Good Readsas of: June 10, 2013 // not one great review
----Internet Book ListList of Christina Dodd's Books
D / 1.008-32-2010Kay's Blog--Sidney Kay // justified negatives
3.52 average{28 ratings}Library Thingas of: June 10, 2013
----Open Librarybrief bio / List of Christina Dodd's Books
3.60 average{111 ratings}Paperback Swapas of: June 10, 2013
----Paranormal Romancebrief bio / List of Christina Dodd's Books
3.00 average{7 reviews}Shelfarias of: June 10, 2013
----You TubeCastles In The Air Book Trailer
3.8506-12-2013Wolf Bear Does Booksshorter post on Amazon, Fiction DB, Good Reads, Library Thing, Shelfari

♥   Disclaimer:   I Purchased This Book
♥   Very Subjective Rating
♣   Will add your Castles In The Air review link to table, just ask

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